29th October 2000
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Wanted: Minister to prosecute war

It is two weeks since the People's Alliance has been voted to power again. Yet, though election pronouncements were that the war would be fought to a finish nothing seems to have been done so far by the new Government to revamp operations in the Jaffna peninsula to restore the military balance in its favour from the reversals following the Elephant Pass debacle. 
Neither has any dynamism been infused into the military effort in the other areas of operations. Whereas the military initiative appears to be locked in a defensive situation, the LTTE on the other hand, by the very fact of tying down the military drive, appear to be able to operate with greater impunity judging by their recent attacks in Trincomalee, the Eastern province and to some point, in Colombo as well. 
Politically as well the war situation, at the moment at least, seems to be on the back burner with formation of coalitions and government receiving priority. That there has been no Deputy Minister of Defence appointed as yet underscores the point. Granted that the President is in charge of defence, but with the multifarious responsibilities of her office, especially at this point of the tenure of the new Government, President Kumaratunga cannot be expected to overlook the nitty-gritty of day to day military matters. 
While the President appointed a record 44 Cabinet Ministers it is unfortunate to say the least that she did not deem it necessary to appoint a Cabinet Minister for the exclusive purpose of prosecuting the war. President J. R. Jayewardene did this and picked one of his best Ministers for the job and almost succeeded in defeating the LTTE until the Indian Government intervened in 1987 by throwing a life line to the LTTE. 
Whilst saying that, the vacuum of not having a Deputy Minister of Defence or a separate Minister however concerns political administration more than the exercise of military leadership which flows from the President through the military chain of command. In this context, the role of the Joint Operations Command becomes relevant. What exactly is the role of this HQ is a moot question. A joint operations command has since it was first established in 1986 been an ON and OFF organisation with its effectiveness depending more on the personalities of Deputy Ministers and the Joint Operations Commanders rather than as a clearly defined structural link in the military chain of command. For instance, what its role and responsibilities were in the recent Wanni and Elephant Pass disasters bears scrutiny and its effectiveness in the present military impasse needs to be reviewed. 
In the hindsight of past military operations, more particularly on the military reversals that have unfortunately occurred with tragic frequency it is evident that there are several hiatuses between defence policy planning, its organisation and execution of operations. We know as a fact that what is sometimes discussed and agreed upon at the apex National Security Council is not only not implemented, but also forgotten with the passage of time. These in combination have retarded the effectiveness of military operations, in fact have been ineffective in spite of burgeoning defence expenditure and the ever-increasing replenishment of military hardware and other resources. 
The prevailing military impasse in which the LTTE seem to be wresting operational initiative from a defensively bogged-down military demands, revised defence policies and a revitalised operational attitude. This is an unavoidable political priority, especially in the light of the recent comments made by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar that peace talks with the LTTE is a hopeless option at this moment of time – and who knows –time to come. 
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